Christianity emerges in the second century as a family of warring sects comprised almost exclusively of ex-pagan gentiles. As they faced off against each other, each claiming to be the true community of revelation, these gentile sects derided their Christian rivals by accusing them of being “Jews,” of being “like the Jews,” or of being “worse than the Jews.” It was in this period that “thinking with Jews” became hard-wired into Christian theology, thus Christian identity. The intra-Christian exchange of anti-Jewish insults became one of the drive wheels of patristic theology.
How did “Jews” come to be used as the ultimate Christian term of doctrinal derogation? In part because “Jews” were put forward as a polemical category by those very same Hellenistic Jewish texts – Paul’s letters, the gospels and, most of all, the Jewish scriptures themselves, the Septuagint (LXX) – that these newer movements looked to when constructing their own theologies. Paul’s complaints about his apostolic competition (“Are they Hebrews? So am I! Are they Israelites? So am I! Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I? Are they ministers of Christ? I am a better one!” 2 Cor 11:22f.), and Jesus’ complaints about Pharisees, Sadducees and chief priests shape the letters and especially the gospels; while the Law and the Prophets are filled with the complaints of Moses, of (e.g.) Jeremiah, and of God about the stony hearts, stiff necks, and spiritual inconstancy of the people of Israel. In its new, second-century gentile setting, however, this older intra-Jewish polemic mutated into anti-Jewish polemic. It thus stood ready to hand for reuse both against Jews, the perennial Other, and especially against other gentile Christians. To call a gentile Christian a “Jew” was likewise to accuse him of being un-Christian, indeed of being anti-Christian. The heretical Christian “Jew” – whatever current Christian doctrinal enemy that might be – was thereby identified with the scriptural enemies of Paul, of Jesus, and of God.
The fact that none of these contesting Christians were actually Jews mattered not at all. What did matter was their good pagan education, their agility in the verbal agōn. These men had mastered the adversarial conventions of forensic rhetoric, the art of framing a persuasive case against an opponent by caricaturing that opponent’s position: The more vicious the caricature, the more persuasive the speaker’s case. And while contemporary Jews could occasionally be on the receiving end of this invective, the fiercest battles were joined against other gentile Christians. By availing themselves of the rhetorical ammunition of anti-Judaism, these contestants could authorize their views, back light their arguments and frame their fights by appeals to Scripture. In brief, and curiously, it was the lush diversity of second-century gentile Christianity that occasioned the hyper-development of Christianity’s rhetoric contra Iudaeos.
This rhetoric underwent a second bout of perfervid development in the decades after Constantine. Once again, intra-Christian diversity goes far to explain why this was so. Imperially-sponsored creeds and other notionally consensus-building efforts led to heated debates, regional rivalries, splits within urban churches, rounds of episcopal exiles and other coercive measures. Constantine’s efforts at consolidation, in short, only further fractured the catholica. But now, post-312, the stakes were higher, both for Jews and for those reviled as “Jews.” Imperial law became a new site for discourse contra Iudaeos, where emperors indulged in the rhetorical humiliation of Jews and of Judaism. But heresy, meanwhile, shifted from a species of intra-Christian name-calling to an actual social and legal liability: Christians of different doctrinal bent were the first, and the most sustained, victims of the empire’s shift from maintaining the pax deorum to safeguarding the pax dei. The longest period of imperially-sponsored anti-Christian persecution began with Constantine’s patronage of the church.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) presents both a conspicuous exception to this patristic intra-Christian tradition of anti-Jewish rhetoric, and a no less conspicuous, indeed a ferocious continuator of it. His discourse differed according to his enemy. Against those heretics par excellence, the Manichees, Augustine surprisingly developed original, irenic, and positive ways of “thinking with Jews.” Against the Donatists, however – in many ways doctrinal clones of North African catholics – no anti-Jewish calumny was too low, no imputation of malice too vicious. What accounts for this surprising contrast? And how did Augustine’s rhetoric, whether pro- or contra Iudaeos, impact the social experience of actual Jews?
II. Pro Iudaeos
Two quite different adversaries provoked Augustine to think outside the box of prevailing Christian contra Iudaeos traditions: Jerome, in a nasty letter attacking Augustine, and Augustine’s reading of Paul, as insidiously, dangerously “Jewish” (ep. 75; cf. Augustine’s epp. 28, 40, 82); and Faustus, a former Manichaean colleague of Augustine’s, who authored a missionary tract attacking North African catholicism as “too Jewish” (Faustus’ Capitula, preserved in Augustine’s c. Faustum). These challenges fell in the late 390s-early 400s, when Augustine was also struggling to get to grips with how to read the Bible – most especially Genesis, the gospels, and Paul – in a way that respected its “historical” or “literal” (ad litteram) or “specific” (proprie) meanings as well as its spiritual, figural ones (de doctrina Christiana 3.10,15-23,33). From this welter of exegetical preoccupations and polemical accusations, his novel teachings about Jews and Judaism emerged.
Augustine had provoked Jerome’s ire by questioning the older man’s interpretation of the Letter to the Galatians, specifically his reconstruction of Paul’s fight with Peter in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14; epp. 28 and 40). Jerome, claiming to follow Origen, had argued that the apostles’ falling out had actually been a pretense enacted for the edification of the community. Peter had only seemed to advocate Judaizing, providing Paul with the pedagogical opportunity to propound the Law-free gospel. But of course, stated Jerome, Peter in fact knew that Christ had abrogated the Law. He had only pretended to think otherwise so that Paul could make his points.
Augustine demurred, on two grounds. First, he insisted, Paul would not have knowingly provided a false account of this incident: to think that he did would seriously undermine the authority of Scripture (ep. 28.3,4-5). But, second – and here we see Augustine’s concern to read proprie and ad litteram – what was wrong in any case, Augustine asked Jerome, if Peter and also Paul themselves still lived according to Jewish law? “After all, Paul was a Jew.” Both apostles, Augustine insisted, would have maintained their traditional practices even after becoming Christian (ep. 40.4,4-6): since God himself had ordained these practices, they had no reason not to. The question was whether gentiles had had to assume Jewish practice, and Paul had rightly urged that they did not. But there was nothing wrong during this first generation of the church for these Jews, even as Christians, to keep Jewish law.
Jerome replied in high dudgeon (ep. 75, c. 403). He accused Augustine of Judaizing, thus of flirting with heresy. Augustine’s position, the older man fulminated, was like that of the Ebionites and of the Nazoreans, two heretical groups of Jewish believers who also wrongly esteemed the Law. But the Law is always and everywhere for Christians a source of contagion. Augustine’s views thus endangered the church and, further, insulted Paul. “How deplorable are those who . . . make the Apostle of Christ into a Jew!” (75.4,17).
Against Jerome’s baroque accusations Augustine produced a calm and measured response detailing exegetically his position of the status of the Law and on the probity of the apostles’ – and also Jesus’ – Law observance. Pointing to instances in Acts, Augustine observed: “When Paul circumcised Timothy, or fulfilled his Nazarite vow at Cenchreae, or when he . . . undertook the celebration of those rites [at the Temple], . . . he did this so he would not be thought to condemn, like the Gentiles’ idolatry, those rites that God had commanded in earlier times, fittingly, to foreshadow things to come” (ep. 82.2,8). “At that time, the [Christian] Jews were not to be kept from those rites as if they were wicked, and the Gentiles were not to be forced to those rites as if they were necessary” (82.2,9). The divine source of these Laws ensured their intrinsic goodness. Furthermore, he asserted, Christ had not abrogated the Law; far from it. Jesus had lived his life as a Law-observant Jew, commanding Torah-observance and keeping it himself (82.2,19).
Augustine had had ample practice rehearsing his position thanks to the much more comprehensive challenge of the Manichaean Faustus. In his Capitula, Faustus had energetically disputed catholic teachings on creation, incarnation, and (bodily) resurrection; on the authority and integrity of the New Testament scriptures; and on the church’s double canon of Old and New Testament. And he did so not by citing Manichaean revelation, but by proof-texting from scripture itself.
Some of Faustus’ arguments rested on those framed mid-second century by Marcion, the first theologian to compile a specifically Christian canon. Stimulating Marcion’s project was his principled rejection of the Jewish scriptures, and of the relation of God the Father to those scriptures. The god portrayed in the Septuagint, he held, was a lower kosmokrator, a god who made flesh, blessed flesh, commanded fleshly latreia; who enjoined marriages and procreation; who ordered men into battle, or who slew them himself; and who established a fleshly Law (focused as it was on circumcision, food, and blood sacrifices). Such a god had little to do with the gospel message of spirit, love, grace, and eternal life. Thus those places in his epistles where Paul had seemed to praise this god and his Law, Marcion had maintained, were actually textual corruptions planted by later Judaizers: the texts had to be purged of these Judaizing emendations in order to yield Paul’s true meaning. And the LXX itself could never in a first order way be considered Christian scripture, framed as it was around the dictates of the lower, cosmic god. True Christianity – Marcion’s Christianity – was spiritual Christianity, wholly untainted by “fleshy” Judaism.
Faustus took over much of Marcion’s message, but he ingeniously augmented it with arguments drawn specifically from the rhetoric contra Iudaeos traditional to Augustine’s own church. This rhetoric, for Latin hearers, had originally been generated as arguments against Marcion, its source the North African theologian and controversialist, Tertullian. Tertullian had conceded the point made by his Christian rival: the Jews’ law was indeed a bad law. But this was because the Jews were a bad people, needing such harsh laws (c. Marcionem 2.19,1). Their blood sacrifices, true, really were fleshly, and tantamount to idolatry; but God had not actually wanted them. Rather, he had given such detailed laws to the Jews in order to curb their perennial attraction to pagan idols (2.18,2-3; 4.31,3-7). The Jewish texts, understood spiritually – as neither Jews nor heretics could understand them! – were actually a code for Christ. Jesus and the first heroic generation of apostles had repudiated the fleshly practices of the Jews, and turned aside from “Judaism itself” (ipso Iudaismo 3.22,3; 4.12,1). The problem was not the god of the Jews, nor the texts of the Jews, asserted Tertullian: the problem was the Jewish people themselves.
By repeating so many of Tertullian’s arguments, much of Faustus’ critique of Judaism (and thus of the fleshly Old Testament and of fleshly Jewish practices) simply echoed what generations of more orthodox North African Christians had already been hearing in their own churches. How then, Faustus challenged them, could they not stand charged with hypocrisy, or at least with inconsistency? “I reject circumcision as disgusting; so do you . . . I reject sacrifice as idolatry; so do you . . . Both of us regard Passover and Sukkot as useless and needless . . . . You cannot blame me for rejecting the Old Testament, because you reject it as much as I do . . . You deceitfully praise with your lips what you hate in your heart. I’m just not deceitful, that’s all” (c. Faustum 6.1). “Your Christianity, like mine, is based on the belief that Christ came to destroy the Law and the prophets. You prove this by what you do [that is, by not keeping Jewish law], though you deny it with what you say” (18.1). Catholics might insist that they regard these Jewish texts as Christian scripture, but their actions spoke louder than their words. Catholics and Manichees, Faustus insinuated, shared a deep, essential and abiding bond: a principled contempt for the teachings and the practices of Judaism.
Augustine, repudiating Faustus, could have responded with the well-worn tropes of traditional rhetoric against the Jews, deflecting criticism of the Old Testament texts and practices onto the Jews themselves, and defending orthodoxy against Faustus’ charges by insisting that Faustus, like the Jews, failed to think spiritually. But he chose otherwise. Augustine asserted against Faustus regarding the Old and New Testaments what he had asserted against Jerome regarding Galatians: scripture had to be read and understood ad litteram and proprie. Augustine accordingly urged that scripture (its spiritual and symbolic heights and depths notwithstanding) also and always reliably “reports things that were done” (facta narratur; c. Faust. 12.7). Thus, if the Old Testament depicts God as giving Israel the Law and as praising Israel for keeping it, the text “means” what it says (as the littera sonat).
Furthermore – and much more radically – Augustine insisted that this ad litteram reading of these sacred texts established not only that the Law was in itself good, but also that the Jewish understanding of the Law as enacted by Israel and as described in the Bible was also good. This view in effect turned traditional anti-Jewish polemic, both heterodox and orthodox, on its head. The Jews’ “literal-mindedness,” their fleshly (carnaliter) enactment of the Law had long provided critics with proof positive of Israel’s turpitude: instead of understanding the Law “spiritually,” Jews had understood it “carnally,” thus missing its reference to Christ and remaining ensnared in carnal practices, the “works of the Law.”
Augustine now argued the opposite. “The Jews were right to keep all these things” – immersions and seasons and food laws and most especially blood sacrifices and circumcision – because only in so doing could they have enacted the Law by their behavior, in the flesh, within historical time (c. Faust. 12.9). In this way, the whole people of Israel stood as a prophet foretelling the coming in the flesh, the suffering in the flesh, and the redemption of the flesh through the truly incarnate Christ (4.2, 13.15, 22.4, 26.8, and frequently elsewhere). Even and especially Christ had enacted the Law secundum carnem. “He not only never broke one of God’s commandments himself, but he found fault with those around him who did . . . for it was God himself who gave these commandments through Moses” (16.24). So scrupulously did Christ keep the Law that he died before the onset of the Sabbath and remained in his tomb until Sunday morning to make sure that the Sabbath was out before he “picked up” his flesh (16.29; cf. the apostles’ keeping the Law after the resurrection, 19.16). Keeping the commandments of the Law “literally” had fulfilled the word and the will of God.
So much for the biblical past, both Jewish and Christian. But what about the present, and the Jewish practice of Augustine’s contemporaries? Did present-day Israel – that perduring community of unbelievers – have any positive relevance for the community of Christ? Augustine considers the Jews’ continuing practice “a marvel to be greatly respected (revera multum mirabile) . . . The Jewish nation under foreign monarchs whether pagan or Christian has never lost the sign of their law, by which they are distinguished from all other nations and peoples” (c. Faust. 12.13). Some divine initiative must continue to preserve and to protect Jewish practice. To understand what and why this is, Augustine considers Genesis 4, and the figure of Cain.
To be sure, Cain is a type of the Jews: both are fratricides, the murderers of Abel/Christ. But after this murder, God put his protective mark on Cain before sending him into exile (c. Faust. 12.12-13: Cain groans amisso regno, “at being sent from his kingdom,” a conflation of Cain’s exile with the events in 70 CE, the destruction of the Temple and the notional beginning of a second “exile”). What is this protective mark? It is signum legis suae, “the sign of their Law.” Contemporary Jewish practice, in other words, God-given, is also God-protected, so that no monarch whether pagan or Christian will “kill” Jews – that is, will force them to stop living as Jews (12.13). The Jewish people are scattered everywhere with their practices and their sacred books (which are actually the church’s books, though the Jews do not realize this), thus witnessing both to Christians and to unbelieving pagans to the truth of the Church’s interpretation of those books (13.9-10; also 15.11). “The unbelief of the Jews has been made of signal benefit to us . . . Their blindness to Christian truth is itself foretold in their books. They testify to the truth by their not understanding it” (16.21). It is to preserve them in their unwitting service to the Church that God “protects” them:
What does God say? . . . “Anyone who kills Cain will be undone by vengeance seven-fold.” It’s as if God had said, “It will not be as you say. The impious race (genus) of the carnal Jews will never die a bodily death. Whosoever would destroy them in this way will unloose a vengeance seven-fold, that is, he will bear away from them the seven-fold vengeance which I have wrapped around the Jewish people [to protect them] on account of their guilt in murdering Christ." Thus, the Jewish people will never perish, for the whole length of the seven days of time. They make visible to the Christian faithful the subjection that they merited because they, in the pride of their kingdom, put the Lord to death. And so “the Lord God placed a mark upon Cain, lest anyone coming upon him should kill him,” (Genesis 4:15).
- contra Faustum 12.13
An exile at once punitive (for Jews) and providential (for the Church); book-bearing; divine protection; testimony: these are the core ideas of Augustine’s “witness doctrine,” his teaching on the Jews’ very visible, continuing, important and special status within Christian culture. A decade or so after he first framed this teaching in the contra Faustum, Augustine will reprise these ideas as he explicates Genesis 4 by appeal to Psalm 59.12: “Slay them not, lest my people forget. Scatter them with your might” (Enarr. in Ps. 59.1,21; ep. 149.1,9; cf. c. Faust. 12.13). That psalm, showcased in Book 18 of his City of God (18.46) will come to serve as the summary scripture for this, Augustine’s signature teaching on Jews as a witness-people protected by God.
III. Contra Iudaeos
The same man who constructed such a creative and surprisingly positive theology of Jews and of Judaism when arguing against the Manichees was no less capable, when his purpose called for it, of deploying the deeply traditional, hostile, and negative contra Iudaeos tradition. Whereas Augustine’s positive, thus original teachings were displayed primarily in formal writings (c. Faustum, de civitate Dei, ep. 149 to Paulinus, de fide rerum invisibilium), his use of the traditional hostile teachings was broadcast especially in the ancient equivalent of social media, which is to say, in his sermons. Who were his targets? And what was his purpose?
Augustine’s one hundred and twenty-four sermons on the Gospel of John are one of the premier sites for his use of this traditional contra Iudaeos invective. Like the text that he preaches on, Augustine too rails against “the Jews.” One scholar has noted that, of this corpus, 60 sermons contain “appreciable anti-Jewish material, and between fifteen and seventeen are completely taken up with it.” Interestingly, much of Augustine’s hostile characterization contrasts sharply with prominent features of his own earlier, pro Iudaeos arguments. Having defended Jewish blood sacrifices against Faustus as singularly appropriate and as pleasing to God, Augustine when explicating this gospel sounds themes straight out of Tertullian: “sacrifices were given to that people because they were so fleshly, their hearts so stony, in order to keep them from falling into idolatry” (Tractatus in ev. Ioh. 10.4). Carnal people, carnal practices, stony hearts, a perpetual proclivity toward idol-worship: this really is that old-time religion (see too 3.19, unspiritual Jewish Sabbath practices; 93.4, Jewish violence; 114.40, Jewish obduracy). In illumining for his own congregation the meanings of John’s gospel, with its sharp contrasts between light and darkness, spirit/flesh, sight/blindness, Augustine produced the “Jews” that he needed to narrativize, thus to illuminate, his theological points. The Jews of these sermons are personified teaching devices, figures that stand in for wrong understandings of the scriptures, what one scholar has labeled “hermeneutical Jews.”
In other sermons, when Augustine focused on behavior rather than on textual exegesis, “Jews” do double duty, serving as both positive exemplars (thus shaming Augustine’s listeners: “Not even the Jews do X”) and as negative ones (“Do you want to act like the Jews?”). Not even the Jews attend the theatre festival, so the [catholic] men of Bulla Regio should stop going, too (Sermo Denis 17.7-9). Not even the Jews give each other presents on the Roman January new year, so Christians should certainly stop indulging in this pagan practice (Sermo 196.4). On the other hand, Carthage is a city of dubious morality precisely because it is so full of Jews (Sermo Denis 17.9). “Jews” in this context represent a very plastic propaedeutic device, here in service of Augustine’s efforts to inculcate certain behaviors in his congregation. The actual (and pedagogical) “target” of his rhetoric is his catholic congregation.
But it is against the Donatists – who doctrinally were dissident catholics, not (like the Manichees) obvious heretics – that Augustine’s contra Iudaeos rhetoric waxes most lush, indeed most vicious. In these sermons, he frequently cross-identifies Jews with Donatists, who also “rage madly” against the church’s unity. Like Judas, Jews embody violent hatred and murderous betrayal. (These were themes especially dear to Donatist preachers, who lambasted catholic traditores with the same tropes. “If ‘the Donatists’ were the Catholics’ surrogate Jews, then the Catholics easily fit the same role in reverse.” ) Killers of Christ, vicious and mocking; ravenous roaring lions, vipers, asps, scorpions; ravens feeding on death; leagued with Satan, spurred by insane fury – Augustine’s anti-Jewish vituperation goes on and on. His targets, however, were his dissident Christian rivals. “The consistent message . . . is that ‘the Donatists’ were worse than the Jews.”
Whence Augustine’s vituperation contra Iudaeos against these schismatics – especially in light of the more typical (and by now traditional) use of this ecclesiastical rhetoric, which had trained its sights so insistently on heretics? Here the very closeness of these two North African antagonists – liturgically, doctrinally, temperamentally – forced Augustine’s hand. His rhetoric aimed to make a difference, to conjure an image of these quondam insiders as dangerous, indeed as “persecuting” outsiders (e.g., sermo 202.3). He did so by invidiously likening the errant Donatists to the wicked Jews of the contra Iudaeos rhetoric. “The one side was accessing an existing discourse about a much-disliked third party in order to label and excoriate the other.” Both in Augustine’s own rhetoric and in that of the imperial laws that he worked so hard to effect, “Jews” and “heretics” stand linked explicitly to “Donatists” (e.g., CTh 16.5.44, issued 408; cf. Const. Sirm. 14, issued shortly thereafter in early 409). And eventually the catholics’ carefully orchestrated campaign achieved a decisive legal victory, when Ravenna finally designated and thus targeted Donatists as “heretics,” subjecting them to the repressive power of the state. While Donatists may not have started out as “heretics” when Augustine began branding them as worse than the Jews, “heretics” is how they ended up.
IV. Augustine and the Jews
“Hermeneutical” Jews peopled the tropes of traditional ecclestastical rhetoric contra Iudaeos, serving to damn perceived competitors whether Jewish or (far more often) Christian and gentile: we see them displayed particularly in Augustine’s anti-Donatist sermons. The “Jews” of Augustine’s pro Iudaeos, anti-Manichaean arguments were no less a rhetorical construct, there deployed positively. “Jews,” against Manichees, were stand-ins for a correct (that is, catholic) reading of the Old Testament and for a valuable historical embodiment, past and present, of catholic Christian claims.
But did these rhetorical Jews have any effect on historical Jews, Augustine’s own North African Jewish contemporaries? Did his rhetoric, whether negative or positive, affect their social reality?
We know precious little about the Jewish population in Augustine’s North Africa – not much more, in fact, than that Jews were there. Augustine refers to them (real Jews, not rhetorical Jews) from time to time in his sermons and writings, but the dossier of his actual encounters with them is very small.  His signature teaching on Jews as a protected witness people, further, when viewed together with his attitudes and actions against pagans and especially against Donatists, might seem to pronounce a sort of social policy: within the persecuting society of post-Theodosian North Africa, the Jews alone were to be left alone. However, during his own lifetime, religiously inspired aggression against Jews was not part of North African culture: no one there was forcing Jews to convert to Christianity.
Augustine’s “witness doctrine,” in his own period, thus appears to be more like a theological reprise of what was long traditional in Roman law, both pre- and post-Constantine: Jewish ancestral practices – like the religious practices of most Roman subject peoples – were usually never interfered with and, in this sense, were granted respect. In earlier, specifically Christian imperial law, the first targets of the government’s coercive initiatives had been Christian minorities (both heretics and schismatics) and, next, pagans. At best a distant third target population, Jews for the most part had been protected, their ancient religious prerogatives acknowledged.
In Augustine’s Africa, it was the schismatic Donatists who bore the brunt of the coercive power of state and church acting in concert. Pagans came next (as with Honorius’ initiative in 399, shutting down temples in Carthage). Jews were unmolested; and St. Stephen’s relics, which had caused such chaos on Minorca, in North Africa stimulated no such popular anti-Jewish activity. The distraction of the Donatist situation had probably worked for the benefit of local Jewish populations: the catholic church had so much on its hands in seizing the property and integrating the multitudes of Donatist laymen and clergy that the Jews – a much smaller population and certainly, by comparison with the Donatists, utterly unthreatening – stood well below the line of fire.
Depending where in the post-Roman world that we look, a century or so after Augustine’s lifetime, it is the Jews’ legal status that can shift precipitously. The contrasting behaviors of two important and near-contemporary figures of the western church, Gregory the Great in Rome (c. 540 - 604, pope from 590) and Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636, bishop from 600) well illustrate the range of possibilities. Both men were aristocrats, well connected socially and ecclesiastically; both, for their day, were well educated and erudite; both drew on Augustine in particular as well as Latin patristic tradition more generally for their fundamental theological orientations. And in their homiletic and exegetical writings, both fully exhibit the by-now standard Christian expressions of contempt for Jewish “obduracy” and religious “blindness.”
Yet the social expression of their religious convictions differed notably. Gregory, though extending greater effort than did Augustine to actively attract Jews to the church, nonetheless acknowledged their legitimacy as a community and upheld Roman legal tradition. Jewish ownership of Christian slaves he actively and everywhere combated (with mixed results); coerced conversions and Christian seizures of Jewish property he strenuously condemned. Neither he nor the Jews whose grievances he sought to redress seem to have regarded them(selves) as anything less or other than Roman citizens.
Isidore’s political and, thus, religious environment differed significantly from Gregory’s. In 587, the Arian Visigoth king Reccared embraced catholicism, converting his Arian clergy in the course of the Council of Toledo two years later. After Reccared and continuing on through the seventh century, thanks to Isidore, Augustine’s anti-Donatist theology of coercion jumps rails. Augustine’s arguments for coercing Donatists are now repurposed to target Jews, precisely that population that Augustine himself had explicitly defended.
This was no innocent misreading. Isidore was intimately familiar with Augustine’s writings, which he appropriated freely for his own. In particular, he read and borrowed from Augustine’s work against Faustus, that treatise wherein Augustine had expressed most fully his defense of Jews and of Judaism. Isidore even cites the exact same passage from c. Faustum 12.12-13 where Augustine, commenting on the “mark of Cain,” had taught that God himself would curse any king, pagan or Christian, who tries to coerce Jews to abandon their religious practices. Yet even if Isidore had understood Augustine’s teaching, he ignored it, and he never invokes Augustine to criticize Sisebut’s policy of forced Jewish conversions. He invokes Augustine’s “witness doctrine” very minimally, nowhere quoting Ps 59:12 in his major work de fide catholica contra Iudaeos, a treatise that circulated widely in the later Middle Ages. Instead, in support of forced conversion, Isidore marshals against Visigothic Jews precisely the pro-coercion arguments that Augustine had originally framed against North African Donatists.
Again, to what effect? Law itself is proscriptive, not descriptive. We cannot move from the language of these Visigothic laws to the social situation of Jews in Visigothic Spain, not least because we have even less of an idea about the Jewish presence in the Iberian peninsula than we do for the Jews of Augustine’s North Africa; nor do we know whether, or how, these laws were ever enforced.
What we do know is that ecclesiastical rhetoric of traditions contra Iudaeos remained dismally stable, arcing from the high Roman empire to the pulpits and sees of barbarian kingdoms. The church itself became to the medieval period what the municipal schools had been in the earlier days of empire: a stable and trans-local institution for the teaching and transmission of agonistic rhetoric. The new “rhetors” were the clergy; the new forensic rhetoric particularly targeted “the Jews;” in Visigothic Spain, this rhetoric shaped the language of law. In the two centuries that stand between Augustine (d. 430) and Sisebut (d. 621), the Jews’ legal status had altered more drastically than it had in the full sweep of the seven centuries that stand between Alexander the Great and Augustine. In this sense, Christian rhetoric contra Iudaeos had real effects.
 On the evolution of rhetoric contra Iudaeos from a tool of inter-religious polemic to a genre of intra-Christian polemic, P. Fredriksen, Augustine and the Jews (Yale University Press 2010), 51-102. D. P. Efroymson, “The Patristic Connection,” Anti-Semitism and the Foundations of Christianity, ed. A.T. Davis (Paulist Press 1979), 98-117 remains fundamental.
Paula Fredriksen, the Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita at Boston University, since 2009 has been Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she also holds three honorary doctorates from Iona (USA), Lund (Sweden), and Hebrew University (Israel). She has published widely on the social and intellectual history of ancient Christianity, and on pagan-Jewish-Christian relations in the Roman Empire. Author of Augustine on Romans (1982) and From Jesus to Christ (1988; 2000), her Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, won a 1999 National Jewish Book Award. More recently, she has explored the development of Christian anti-Judaism, and Augustine’s singular response to it, in Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (2010); and has investigated the shifting conceptions of God and of humanity in Sin: The Early History of an Idea (2012). Her latest two studies, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle (2017), and When Christians Were Jews: A Jerusalem Story (2018) place the Jesus-movement’s Jewish messianic message within the wider world of ancient Mediterranean culture, politics, and power.